| The Red Right Hand
I find it fascinating that the film that seems a dead-cert. to sweep the Oscars is one that centres on two gay cowboys; a notion that when suggested sends a smirk across people's faces and yet deals with a topic that the majority of the United States condemns as an evil act. Truly fascinating. Perhaps this is why the film is so well done, so relevant and poignant; that the intolerance that these two men met still goes on strongly to this day. I have to confess that when I was told I was going to an advanced screening of this film I cringed somewhat. The last thing I wanted to do was watch some sappy gay romp about bloody cowboys. Every time I would mention it people would either a.) laugh hysterically as if to illustrate how embarrassing that would be for me or b.) tell me how wonderful it must be to see that film, how masterful they had heard it is. So before watching the film I was greeted with an onslaught of homophobic-paranoia, wide-eyed optimism and a mass of 'award winning' media madness. As I took my seat I looked around and saw that I was the only male in an audience of eighty - this is no word of a lie - when the film was announced, the attendant started, "Good Evening, Ladies." I don't think I usually start a review with the end of a film but I want to get something out of the way right now, so you may understand what it is that I'm exactly trying to convey with this review; this film is pure genius and one of the finest romance films I have ever seen, delivered from a director at the very height of his capabilities.
1963 and the Southern States of the US have yet to embrace the sexual revolution sweeping the rest of the country. Work is difficult to find and keep so when two young men (Ennis Del Mar [Ledger] & Jack Twist [Gyllenhaal]) are offered a job herding sheep for a few months, they gladly accept. While one takes the herd up to the peak and watches over them for predators, the other stays two hours behind to set up a base camp. After one night of a particularly heavy drinking session the two ranchers realise it's too dark and they're far too drunk to get back to the sheep. Ennis stays out by the fire and as Jack points out it gets unbearably cold when the fire dies out. Jack brings Ennis into his tent and they share a passionate and rather rough sex scene. The next morning there is a brief conversation as to neither one of them doing that before or being 'queer.' As their time together continues they are drawn closer.
Now not only good friends but lovers they openly and frequently share moments of affection for one another, unfortunately one of those times happens to be as their boss, Joe Aguirre [Randy Quaid], is delivering a message. Unhappy with the fact that they're sharing a tent and not doing as they are being paid to, Joe brings them down from the mountain a month early. This is where the two actors really start to go off on separate internal paths (also the reason -I feel- that Ledger is getting all the nominations over Gyllenhaal). They both begin fighting as Ennis is suddenly hit with the reality of his new relationship with Jack, that he has a fiancee waiting for him and that he is to be married in a matter of months. The story spirals on and follows the lives of our two leads, illustrating that no matter how far apart they are from each other or how much they try to deny what they feel, the connection between them grows ever stronger. Ennis, now married with two daughters, receives a postcard from Jack and they meet up; the moment they see each other they cannot help but embrace - secretly witnessed by Ennis' wife, Alma [Williams] - showing how the love they feel for each other is more than that of the company they've kept over the years. Having spent time in a motel they ascend Brokeback Mountain and relive the early days of their relationship; sharing memories, stories and catching up on the events that have taken part in their lives. Jack is also married, to a girl he met at a rodeo Lureen [Hathaway], a high-spirited woman with a successful, over-bearing and disapproving Father.
I don't want to say too much of the plot as it really is more than just two cowboys going at it in a tent every now-and-then, it's really a tale of two lover's lives without each other. The fact that you can love someone so dearly and yet be denied the right to openly love them by state, law or any other external forces. The entire cast give awe inspiring performances that have you on the brink of tears throughout but the highlight of all this is Heath Ledger. Mr. Ledger's character is the one who has to live with the consequences of his actions to the fullest, being a boy who grew up thinking anything other than a regularly practiced marriage was not only evil but dangerous, he is the one who refuses to commit and leave his life behind for Jack. In the end it's Ennis who still holds Jack close to his heart by living alone, unable to settle, even though for most of the film, he is pushing Jack away. Lee has given us something so much more sophisticated than his previous offerings (not to discredit them at all) and audiences are treated to an experience that only a director at the very apex (I refuse to use the pun 'peak,' I have a feeling many reviewers will) of his abilities can deliver. This one is not going to leave the hearts and minds of the cinema-going public for quite some time.
13th January 2006
The Scene To Look Out For:
Jack proposes starting a life together but Ennis tells him a story from his childhood where his Dad took him to see the corpse of a man who was tortured and killed for living with another man all his life. This is one of the sole reasons why Ennis constantly refuses to properly settle down with Jack - it's not a case of refusing to admit his feelings, it's simply a protective love he displays by trying to keep Jack safe.
It's hard to pick between the two leads... so I won't. Instead I would like to award proper attention to Michelle Williams as Ennis' wife, Alma Del Mar. Having witnessed Ennis and Jack kissing, she tries desperately to bring her husband back and the continual falls she takes are truly gut-wrenching.
"Tell you what, we coulda had a good life together, fuckin' real good life! Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it, Ennis! So what we got now is Brokeback Mountain!"
In A Few Words:
"A classic tale of forbidden love, beautifully told."